Born for a Purpose: Special Needs Children Serve their Community

08/23/13

“Will it be great, or total chaos?” wondered Nikki Graham as she looked at all the volunteers. All she could see was a sea of green shirts with “to serve” written across the back in Chichewa, a local language in Malawi. This past August, Nikki and a Venture Team from Summit Church in Orlando, Florida, did something no one had ever done before, as far as they knew. They brought more than forty children with special needs and their parents or caregivers to clean a hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi


                                  Kutumikira means ‘to serve’ in Chichewa, a tribal language of Malawi.
 
When they arrived, the hospital staff watched carefully, wondering if the children would be up to the task. Children with any form of handicap in Malawi are often seen as useless and marginalized or cast out of their communities and families. But as the service project began, the Venture Team watched a miracle happen. 
 
With joy on their faces, the children and their caregivers rose to the challenge. For many, this was the first time they had ever been asked or allowed to serve their community. Caregivers grabbed mops and cleaned everything they could reach.  Outside, some of the kids climbed up the walls to wash windows just out of reach. Grecious, a sponsored child with cerebral palsy, strapped a bag of water to one of his crutches and started cleaning. 


                                             The children surprised everyone with their enthusiasm. 
 
“This trip was absolutely powerful,” says Samuel Arocho, the team leader. “When these kids went to serve the hospital, it totally transformed the cultural mindset that these kids can’t do anything.”

Children with disabilities are often told they can’t do anything, but these children know now that they can change their community.
 
This moment had been three years in the making. In the summer of 2011, Summit Church put on the first annual summer camp for children from Children of the Nations' (COTN) Challenge Children's Program in Malawi. The theme of the camp was something most of the children had never heard before—God doesn’t make mistakes. In a culture where these children and their caregivers are often misunderstood and ignored, they learned for the first time that God designed them for a special purpose. 
 
But Summit Church didn’t stop there. The next summer they taught the children that God wants us to honor Him by loving our neighbors. And this summer, the children learned they were called to serve, just like Jesus. The team told the story of the widow in the Bible who gave her last coin to help others. To illustrate the message they did several arts and crafts projects. Then team members and children knelt down and washed each other's feet, as Jesus did. 
 

There were many tears as team members and camp participants took turns washing each other’s feet and praying.
 
But it was the time they spent serving in the hospital that really demonstrated to the children and the community that they could, in fact, serve just like Jesus. “When we serve we confirm each other’s dignity,” says Sam. “We believe everyone can serve and that no one is limited by any disability.” 
 
The team was amazed to see children like sixteen-year-old Funesi come alive through service. Funesi has albinism and didn’t believe the team members would want to touch her because she’s been shunned by many people in her community. But by the last day she was playing and tickling her new friends.
 
As the children wait for camp next summer, the team is encouraging them to keep serving in their communities. “How amazing will it be when the people back in the villages begin to be served by the very people who are seen as outcasts because of their disabilities?” says team member Michael Murray. Michael is a great example of this himself—he has cerebral palsy, but has not let that prevent him from traveling to Malawi to serve the children. This is his second year helping with the special needs camp. “People will begin to wonder, “Why are these people serving us when they have so much to worry about themselves?” And the answer will always point back to Jesus.”

       Michael (left) and Grecious have both been affected by cerebral palsy but they encourage each other to seek God and serve others.
 
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